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Warrants served by US marshals task force drop in year after deputy killed in Harrisburg

“The incident left a permanent scar on that unit. But they’re trained to overcome extreme difficulties."

  • Christine Vendel/PennLive
A memorial service for U.S. Deputy Marshal Christopher Hill was held at the GIANT Center in Hershey.

 (Photo courtesy of Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals)

A memorial service for U.S. Deputy Marshal Christopher Hill was held at the GIANT Center in Hershey.

(Harrisburg) — When Kevin Sturgis started a deadly gunfight with members of a U.S. marshals task force in Harrisburg last year, he had several advantages.

He knew he was hiding upstairs in Shayla Pierce’s home and that he was wanted for shooting a pregnant woman in Philadelphia.

He also apparently shot and wounded two men in Harrisburg.Meanwhile, the couple had more than 1.5 pounds of marijuana in the house in the 1800 block of Mulberry Street.

But members of the task force knew none of that. They only knew that Pierce had an outstanding warrant for pointing a gun at her neighbor and that a fugitive named “King” from Philly might be staying with her.

With that limited information, the task force members knocked on Pierce’s door in the early hours of Jan. 18, 2018, according to officials who provided new details to PennLive on the one-year anniversary of that fateful raid.

“They proceeded to the residence to apprehend her and to decipher whether or not someone by the nickname of King frequented her place,” said U.S. Marshal Martin Pane.

After police handcuffed Pierce for her outstanding warrant in her living room, they asked her if she knew someone named “King.” That’s when a man at the top of the stairs shouted, “Are you looking for me?” and started the gunfight that left him and deputy U.S. marshal Christopher Hill dead and two officers wounded.

The new details about how much task force members knew before the raid answer some lingering questions from last year about who actually was the target of the raid. The questions arose because of Sturgis’ lengthy criminal record and fugitive status compared to Pierce’s criminal record and the fact that she had just appeared in court twice in the weeks prior to the raid.

In the end, both Sturgis (whose nickname is King) and Pierce were targets of the raid, but Pierce was the initial target since the officers did not even know Sturgis’ real name at the time.

Pierce pleaded guilty to the gun charge from her warrant last August and was released for time served, but with eight new drug charges hanging over hear head. Her next court date is in March. She likely will face no charges related to the death of deputy Hill after a review of the case by marshals officials in Washington D.C.


Deputy U.S. Marshal Christopher D. Hill, 45, of Conewago Township, was killed in the line of duty while serving a warrant Jan. 18 in Harrisburg.


After every death involving a marshals task force member, the agency does a detailed review to try to find out what went wrong or what could be learned, if anything.

“An examination of the event takes place and a briefing and review occurs with senior leadership in Washington DC.,” Pane said.

The head of the agency’s training academy takes part in these reviews, Pane said, and incorporates new information into additional training, and enhanced training for entering buildings. The training leader also reviews equipment standards such as ballistic shields, helmets, vests and ammunition, Pane said.

So what came out of the review of the deadly raid in Harrisburg? Pane said he couldn’t say specifically.

“Here’s what I can say about this team,” Pane said, “As the number of arrests reflect, obviously you’re talking about an incredibly seasoned task force that makes building entries almost daily.

“These are professionals that train extremely frequently on entry tactics and tactical shooting and not only in training but in practical experience.”

If there were changes in any procedures, policies, training or equipment in the wake of Hill’s death, Pane said he could not divulge because it could provide a tactical advantage to law enforcement fugitives.

“And we don’t want to do that,” Pane said.

But after all the detailed reviews, Pane described the death of Hill as a “tragic accident,” indicating that little could be done to predict or prevent the tragedy.

Carter said he was briefed on the incident and feels comfortable continuing to assign a member of his department full-time to the task force.

“They train all the time,” he said. “They’re experts at serving warrants and going after violent fugitives. What happened was just an unforeseen tragedy. Sometimes things just happen.”

In last year’s deadly raid, bullets from a task force member who was firing back at Sturgis penetrated the wall behind Sturgis and struck Hill, who was on the other side of that wall. In addition, one of the rounds hit Hill near his armpit area, in one of the small areas not covered by his bullet resistant vest.

Sturgis came out firing, and such “overt action” is not uncommon for violent felony fugitives, Pane said.

“The difference is they know they’re wanted,” Pane said. “They know they’re going away for a long time, and perhaps facing the death penalty. They tend to be desperate and take overt action.”

That could be why the United States Marshals Service loses more federal law enforcement officers in one year than other federal agencies combined.

In Sturgis’ case, he was wanted for skipping bail and failing to appear at his Jan. 5, 2017 sentencing for a 2014 gun crime, where he was likely facing five to ten years in prison. A prosecutor was pushing for serious jail time noting that Sturgis had been arrested 11 times and had six convictions, not including a rape case as a juvenile.

He had been convicted in October 2016 of illegally carrying a gun in his car.

Less than one month after that conviction, while he was out on $1 bond, (Yes, that’s one single dollar) Philadelphia police allege Sturgis nearly killed his pregnant girlfriend in the 800 block of E. Price Street.

Police got a call about the sound of gunshots just after midnight and officers found a 25-year-old woman with two gunshot wounds to her right arm and one to her chest. She was critically wounded, but survived. Police did not release any information about the status of the baby.

The fugitive task force in Harrisburg, however, didn’t have any criminal history when they knocked on Pierce’s door. They only had the nickname of King, which is hardly unique in Philadelphia.

After the deadly raid, Harrisburg police got information that “King,” was responsible for a brazen double shooting in broad daylight October 2017 that injured two men who were in a pickup truck in an alley behind a barber shop near 17th and Market streets.

No one identified Sturgis as the shooter at that time, just his nickname, and no one knew where he was staying in Harrisburg. The gun used in the double-shooting was a .45-caliber, just like the gun Sturgis used in the deadly marshals raid.


The death of deputy Hill represented the first line-of-duty death for the Middle District of Pennsylvania’s marshals service in its 118-year history. It took time for task force members to recover from not only losing their friend, but witnessing it.

“For the personnel involved in this case,” Pane said, “nearly every single member of the task force was present.”

The past year represented a time of reflection and healing for personnel in the middle district, Pane said.

“Deputy Hill was an outstanding employee who participated in many agency initiatives throughout the country and abroad,” Pane said. “To that end, he was known and highly respected by many within this agency. So the impact and the loss of Chris has been felt by many.”

The agency provided counseling and other resources to employees after the incident and again last week, for the one-year anniversary.

Two of the full-time deputies on the task force retired last year, after the deadly raid. Between grieving, healing and training new members, the productivity of the task force fell below its normal level.

The middle district task force typically serves about 450 warrants per year. But that figure dropped to 350 last year, Pane said.

“Anytime you have a line of duty death,” Pane said, “it takes time to heal and process the event.”

Harrisburg Police Commissioner Thomas Carter, however, said he didn’t notice any lull in activity at least in the capital city. He said the task force responded every time he called last year.

“The incident left a permanent scar on that unit,” Carter said. “But they’re trained to overcome extreme difficulties, so the unit will continue to provide the citizens of Dauphin County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the great service they always have.”

Pane said the unit is back up to full speed for this fiscal year and expected to serve about 450 warrants.

Those warrants reflect just a portion of the warrants out there that need to be served, Pane noted.

“Unfortunately throughout every district in the nation, there is a consistent violent felony backlog, and I can assure you there is far in excess of 450,” he said. “But if you get me more resources, I’ll get you more arrests.”

Marc Levy / The Associated Press

FILE PHOTO: Crime tape stretches across a road near the scene of a shooting Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, in Harrisburg.


Harrisburg Officer Jeff Cook was shot in the chest during the raid last year as a member of the task force. He had originally planned to retire in December 2017, but stayed on longer because there weren’t enough officers on the force to be able to fill his position on the task force. Cook agreed to stay on until the end of January.

Then the shooting that could have ended his life happened that month. He was shot when Sturgis barged out the front door after a York officer and Hill were shot inside. A bullet struck Cook in the chest, but a bullet-resistant vest with a protective plate saved his life.

Cook said he didn’t want to retire immediately after the shooting. Instead, he wanted to see if he could still perform the job.

Cook was cleared for duty two months later, and he returned to the task force. He helped with their assignments until June 1.

The police department meanwhile bought more bullet-resistant plates and carriers for additional officers to wear, to better protect them. Previously, only officers assigned to the county tactical team or marshal’s task force had access to the expensive vests.

The department won a $145,000 county gaming grant to purchase 10 vests, which will be donned for high-risk assignments. A group of Emergency Department nurses at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg also staged a 5K run that raised $20,000 to help the department buy even more.

Meanwhile, the York officer, Kyle Pitts, who was shot in the right arm suffered nerve damage that required him to learn how to consistently shoot with his left hand. Pitts recently returned to duty, according to a report in the York Dispatch.

Carter said officers often train on shooting and reloading with their “weak hand” in the off-chance they are injured during a fight for their life.

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